FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Mercenaries and the NGOs

by YVES ENGLER

Market extremists argue that the private sector can do almost everything better than governments. The most extreme do not concede the qualifier “almost” and argue that even the police and army should be privatized.

The growth of private security companies (PSC) is generally seen as a result of the success of extreme market arguments.

Less commented upon is a parallel growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in healthcare, education and social services development, especially in the Third World, that was once provided by public institutions.

Interestingly, at least one insider has linked the two. An advisor to ArmorGroup and former NGO employee, James Fennell, explains these organizations similar historical trajectory: “The increasing role of commercial security companies may be viewed in a similar vein to the increased policy and technical input of NGOs over the past two decades to the provision of official relief and development assistance to Southern nations.”

Beyond similar ideological roots, PSCs and NGOs often have more direct ties. Recently, CARE, Save the Children, CARITAS and World Vision all hired PSCs to protect their operations abroad.

Worried about their image Western NGOs generally prefer to conceal their ties to PSCs but a number of technical studies shed light on the topic. One survey found that “every major international humanitarian organization (defined as the UN humanitarian agencies and the largest international NGOs) has paid for armed security in at least one operational context, and approximately 22% of the major humanitarian organizations reported using armed security services during the last year [2007].”

USAID required the NGOs it contracted in post-occupation Iraq to hire private security. According to Corey Levine, a human-rights consultant, “My organization, a small NGO working to build the capacity of Iraq’s civil society, was no exception. Approximately 40 percent of our $60 million budget went to protecting the 15 international staff. Our security company was South African.”

CARE USA also hired former South African military personnel to protect their operation in Iraq. Peter Singer, author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, describes the militarization of NGO work in Iraq. “The extent to which things have changed is illustrated by one non-governmental humanitarian organization that hired a PMF [private military firm] in Iraq to protect its facilities and staff, a contract which included the NGOs hiring snipers.”

The occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan significantly increased NGO-PSC ties. In 2006 Singer noted, “Industry representatives estimate that approximately 25 percent of the ‘high-end’ firms that provide armed services and over 50 percent of firms providing logistical support have worked for humanitarian clients.” ArmorGroup, Global Risk Strategies, RONCO, Control Risks Group, Erinys, Hart Security, Lifeguard, MPRI, KROLL, Olive, Southern Cross, Triple Canopy and Blackwater have apparently all worked for humanitarian organizations.

ArmorGroup is an NGO favorite. In 2002 its clients included UNICEF, CARE, CARITAS and the Red Cross. ArmorGroup markets itself to NGOs. They’ve hired a former CARE UK official, James Fennell, and claim to be an industry leader in setting ethical standards. While this may be true, the company has seen its share of scandals. Last August one of its employees shot and killed two colleagues and wounded his Iraqi interpreter. Before joining ArmorGroup Danny Fitzsimons had a number of run-ins with the law in England and was let go by another PSC for unstable behavior. Corporate Mercenaries describes another scandal: “Defence Systems Colombia (DSC), a subsidiary of DSL (now ArmorGroup), was implicated in providing detailed intelligence to the notorious XVIth Brigade of the Colombian army, identifying groups opposed to [oil company] BPs presence in the region of Casanare. This intelligence has been linked to executions and disappearances.”

Southern Cross is another PSC working for aid agencies that portrays itself as an ethical-minded enterprise. But it also has a murky past. Southern Cross was founded in Sierra Leone in 1999 by Cobus Claasens, an officer at Executive Outcomes, which was created by former Special Forces from apartheid South Africa.

Before beyond disbanded Executive Outcomes was the face of all that is wrong with PSCs. Today, that distinction is held by Xe Services, formerly Blackwater, which has its own ties to NGOs. A 2006 Humanitarian Policy Group report claimed Blackwater had been contracted by humanitarian groups and in February Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Minister, Bashir Bilour, admitted that “Blackwater is present in Pakistan and is operating in the NWFP as well as other areas. Bilour said that Blackwater was engaged in guarding U.S. consulate staff and foreign NGO workers.”

Any group claiming a “humanitarian” or “development” purpose should obviously not hire Blackwater, but where should the line be drawn? Contracting even the most principled PSC opens up a series of ethical questions.

By hiring PSCs are humanitarian organizations endorsing the booming private security business? PSCs are generally keen to discuss their ties to NGOs because they believe it helps “legitimate their business.”

Koenraad Van Brabant asks a more important question. By hiring PSCs are NGOs “contributing to increased wider, public security” or “the privatization of security, whereby those who are able to pay can buy security while others have to live in fear”? NGO personnel may have the means to purchase security, but this is not a luxury afforded to most.

Reliant on contracts from Western governments NGOs often follow the military into war zones. In these settings they are often perceived as hostile agents of an occupying power. As a result they need security.

Is it really any surprise that NGOs, which replace public institutions delivering services turn to PSCs, which do the same?

YVES ENGLER is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His most recent book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. For more information, go to his website, yvesengler.com

February 09, 2016
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail